OTTAWA -- Major international humanitarian organizations say the UN Security Council must consider the fate of millions of vulnerable innocent civilians, including children, when deciding whether to authorize the use of force against Iraq.
"We are deeply concerned that the council is consistently overlooking the grave humanitarian consequences of potential military intervention on civilians," the nine groups say in a letter to German UN Ambassador Gunter Pleuger, who is the current Security Council chairman.
The groups, which include CARE, Oxfam and World Vision, say that "Iraq's people are already enduring a humanitarian crisis" that can only worsen if there is a war.
The groups take no position on whether military action is required to force the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to comply with UN resolutions to end development of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
But they say the plight of the extremely vulnerable civilian population, particularly children and women, "must be part of the council's deliberations in the coming days and weeks."
They ask that Secretary-General Kofi Annan provide the 15-nation council with a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Iraq before Feb. 14.
That's the day UN weapons inspectors are supposed to report on their efforts to get the Iraqi regime to disarm voluntarily.
The inspectors' report could be the basis for a council decision to authorize the use of force to disarm Iraq.
Aid groups have said the Iraqi civilian population is at grave risk after a decade of economic sanctions imposed after the Persian Gulf war.
About 60 per cent of the country's 24 million people currently depend on the UN oil-for-food program.
The other organizations signing the letter are the Mennonite Central Committee, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Norwegian Refugee Council, Quaker UN Office, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, and Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children.
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